Ernst von Dohnányi (composer) and “six degrees of separation” from the Operation Flash protagonist

It was the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy who, in a short story called “Chains”, first laid out the “six degrees of separation” concept. I’ve had numerous occasions to think of this while doing background research for the Operation Flash book series.

This month, the Hyperion classical music label issued a new recording of music by Dohnányi Ernö (1877-1960), better known perhaps by the German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnányi. [Hungarian naming conventions put the family name first.] Brahms and/or Schumann aficionados won’t want to miss this lovely recording.

Ernst von Dohnanyi (EvD) was born in Pozsony/Pressburg/Bratislava to a mathematics professor and amateur cellist, whose family had been ennobled in 1697. He got his first music lessons from his father, then from age 8 studied organ with the a local church organist. At age 17, he enrolled in the Budapest conservatory, where he studied piano with pupil of Franz Liszt and composition with Hans von Koessler, a first cousin of neo-Baroque composer Max Reger and a devotee of Brahms. EvD’s first published composition was praised and plugged by Brahms; as a pianist, he rose to fame following an American tour.

This early Dohnanyi composition earned the praise of Brahms

Unlike many concert pianists at the time, EvD avidly performed chamber music aside from the usual solo works and concerti: he establised a musical association with the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim, likewise a Brahmsian. (The German-speaking musical world was at the time torn by factional dispute between followers of Wagner and traditionalist followers of Brahms.)

EvD’s fame as a composer and performer was such that, following a long stint as a professor of composition at the Berlin conservatory (where Joachim had invited him), he was appointed the director of the Budapest conservatory. Despite being considered “too German” by the more nationalist Hungarian musicians, he would often showcase works by Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.

EvD’s first wife was a concert pianist named Elsa Kunwald (who herself appears to have been of at least partial Jewish origin[*]), with whom he had a son and a daughter. Their daughter, Grete, married the German physical chemist Karl Bonhoeffer (discoverer of ortho- and para-hydrogen), brother of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The son, Hans von Dohnanyi, (himself married to Dietrich’s sister Christel) did remain a skilled amateur musician all his life, but sought a career in law and government. Eventually, he became a senior civilian specialist in the Abwehr, the German espionage agency, where he was deeply involved in the anti-Hitler conspiracy cell led by the Abwehr’s second-in-command, general Hans Oster (with at least the tacit approval of the Abwehr’s enigmatic chief, admiral Wilhelm Canaris). When Hans’s brother-in-law Dietrich Bonhoeffer was forbidden to preach or publish by the National Socialist authorities, Hans hired him as an Abwehr agent, on the grounds that his extensive contacts with senior Protestant clergy abroad made him a valuable operative.

In our timeline, Hans was arrested shortly after the failure of the Arsenal Bombing Plot (March 21, 1943) for his role in helping a number of Jewish families escape to Switzerland as “agents”. [Yad Vashem would eventually honor him as “Righteous Among The Nations” for those actions.] Bonhoeffer, Oster, and Canaris were eventually all hanged at Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, after secret diaries by Canaris had been discovered that revealed the depth of their involvement in anti-Hitler conspiracies. They were joined in death by Karl Sack, the military judge-advocate who had been in charge of the investiagtion against them, but (as a member of the underground himself) had used delaying tactics in an attempt to run out the clock on the Third Reich before the men’s trial. Hans met his end on the same day, but at Sachsenhausen.

His son, Christoph von Dohnanyi, would in time become the musical director of the Cleveland Orchestra; another son, Klaus, served as Oberbürgermeister (freely: Lord Mayor) of Hamburg 1981-1988.

The Operation Flash series is, of course, set in a timeline where the Arsenal Plot succeeded. (Of course, then the plotters discover that killing Hitler and his chief henchmen was the easy part.) Hans, the handler and mentor of (fictional) protagonist Felix Winter, becomes a senior official in the Emergency Government led by Chancellor Carl Goerdeler. [Goerdeler, a popular former Lord Mayor of Leipzig who had resigned in protest against Nazi chicaneries, was the head of government-designate in case either the real-life Operation Flash plots or the 1944 Operation Valkyrie had succeeded.]

In our timeline, after the war EvD had to defend himself against accusations of NS sympathies, as he had continued to perform in Germany throughout. However, in view of the number of Hungarian-Jewish musicians who credited him with saving their lives, that dog would not hunt; EvD soon after left for the US to take up a professorship of music at Florida State University. His later compositions include a number of works inspired by American folk themes, such as American Rhapsody.

Ernst von Dohnányi, “American Rhapsody” Op. 47 (ca. 1953)

On a final “six degrees” note: EvD’s second wife was herself the ex-wife of composer and violinist Bronislav Huberman, who in 1936 would become the founding director of the Israel Philharmonic.


[*] The conductor Antal Dorati was Elsa Kunwald’s nephew (son of her sister Margit Kunwald)

Critical praise for “Operation Flash, Ep. 2”

From Pat Patterson’s long review on GoodReads:

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.

When the series was introduced, it immediately was placed into my “Guilty Pleasures” category. A book in that category gets read, IMMEDIATELY, regardless of what else I’ve had in the queue ahead of it, and also regardless of whether or not I’m being at all diligent in in reviewing the books I have actually read. 
I don’t like talking about the fact that I have a Guilty Pleasure category. In fact, I plan to deny having such a category in all future conversations. Here’s the take-away: I absolutely LOVE this series. 

Just in case you missed my review of the first book, here’s the basic idea: one of the very many plots against Hitler actually succeeded.[…] the Allies are thrown into confusion that nearly matches that of the German leadership. Nobody is certain who they can trust, and how far.

This is not a criticism, not a criticism, not a criticism! The books end too soon.
That is SIGNIFICANTLY ameliorated by the fact that these books are so historically sound in their basis, that if you are like me, and love going on rabbit trails when your curiosity is triggered, you can spend a LOT of time reading about the way history worked out in OUR timeline. Almost all of the characters are based on real people; they make for fascinating reading. 
If the author had just used hand puppets, and told the story with them, it would still be a really nice thought-exercise of ‘what-if.’ However, through the eyes of the few fictional characters, we get great insights to the way people think, and what would have been real reactions to these circumstances, because the author has done a wonderful job of making the words on the page into real, flesh-and-blood people.

I’m going to eat each of these installments as they come out, BUT the real feast will be when the series is finished (and I hope that isn’t going to be too soon), and I grab up every installment and binge-read. Maybe multiple times.

Delightful!

The book is available for $0.99 on Kindle, or is included with your subscription for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Operation Flash, Episode 2: Hinges Of Fate — now out on Kindle

In an alternate timeline, blowing up Hitler and his command turns out to be the easy part…

Killing Hitler had been child’s play in comparison with figuring out what to do next.
After the coup, the Reich was split into two. Bormann in Munich is Führer of a remnant Nazi state. Goerdeler’s Emergency Government in Berlin fights Bormann on the inside while waging a two-front war with the Allies on the outside.
But a secret meeting abroad may be a game-changer.
Meanwhile, Goerdeler’s special assistant Felix Winter investigates what turn out to be crimes beyond even the conspirators’ worst fears…

Like Episode 1 before it, this episode is just $0.99 on Kindle [free with Kindle Unlimited]

Kudos to all the people who helped make this happen, and especially to

  • Karen Folques, editor
  • “Covers Girl”, cover
  • John Earle, proofreader
  • Logotecture, final eBook conversion
http://www.amazon/com/dp/B07WDQZ766

Sarah Hoyt on covers for Alternate History novels, and for “Operation Flash”

In a series on book covers that is running on Mad Genius Club, Sarah Hoyt explains some of the challenges in designing an alternate history book cover. One of the examples she uses is “Operation Flash”.

I have, btw, recently done this cover for Nitay, who is a friend, but also the first client for my business (Covers Girl.  The website will be up after Liberty con.  I just haven’t been home long enough to devote a weekend to setting it up.)

In this novel someone kills Hitler, and history diverges.  The problem is that it’s almost impossible to convey in a cover, at first sight. I mean, if Hitler had been stabbed that would be doable, but blown up…  well.

So, I tried to convey confusion and that the Nazis still go on.

Sarah’s cover for “Operation Flash”

She told me at the time she was inspired by Harry Turtledove covers. Most of the image was actually rendered in Daz/Poser, with some details added in by hand.
Note she hadn’t read the book: as she discusses here, a book cover needn’t be “the perfect scene from the book”, because that would only make sense to people who had read it! Instead, you’re trying to get people to pick the book up, and so you want to signal the genre and the general setting and subject matter.

Critical praise for “Operation Flash, Ep. 1”

Excerpted from a long review on Goodreads by frequent reviewer Pat Patterson:

By combining historical figures with fabricated point-of-view characters, Arbel gives us a behind-the-scenes look at a history that was ALMOST ours. It’s really a matter of moments that prevented this scenario from taking place, and it’s a story that deserves wider attention.[…]

I’m not sure exactly how he does it, but to me, Arbel seems to be writing of that time as a contemporary writer would. The scenes and characters seem to me to be thoroughly authentic, and NOT 21st century moments rotated backwards 80 years. Some of it, I’m certain, has got to be his familiarity with the language and the scenes, as they were in this period. I will leave it to others to dissect his technique[…]

I was utterly fascinated by this work[…]I devoured it in one session. It’s that good. I am looking forward, oh, yes I am, to more in this series, and I also hope that Arbel’s work gets the attention it deserves. […] it’s just too good to languish in obscurity.

The short book is just $0.99 on Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RK13FDS/

Cover Reveal: “Operation Flash, Episode 1”

No, I have not dropped off the internet 🙂 but things have been extremely busy both at work and in my little writing studio.

The first installment of my alternate history project, “Operation Flash”, just came back from copy editing. It will hit the virtual bookshelves of Amazon any day now: Episode 2 is 80% written already, and I have plans for at least Episode 3. I am planning for Episode 2 to be released sometime in June, and Episode 3 sometime in August.

The following cover was produced by “Covers Girl” (one of the many monikers of Sarah A. Hoyt):

Cover for Operation Flash, Episode 1

On March 21, 1943, one man came within a hairbreadth of blowing up nearly the entire Nazi leadership.

In timeline DE1943RG, he succeeded.

Then the conspirators discovered that killing Hitler and his chief henchmen was the easy part.

COMING SOON TO AMAZON KINDLE:

OPERATION FLASH, Episode 1.